Category Archives: Culture

‘Unlike you, I never stop thinking…’

Image Respect Trust Termite Assumption
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
Henry Winkler, actor and author

while ago, my colleagues and I gave a presentation  about how university administrators are perceived.  The presentation resulted from our concerns about the negative perception of the role of the university administrators, particularly as inferred by members of academic staff. 

One concern is that, by raising the issue, we could potentially create wider divisions with academic colleagues.  That is far from our intention.  On the contrary, we are all part of a greater team with many different facets. 

Rather than just moan about how we are perceived, we want to actively engage in repositioning the value of our work in the eyes of all staff and students.

In the context of the discussion of ‘inclusive culture’, and specifically professional academics and professional administrators, how are we perceived?  If the person reading these lines is an academic they would think of their own perception.  Conversely, if an administrator reads these lines they would think of their own perception.  From our point of view as administrators, there is an equality between academics and administrative staff regarding professionalism.  Indeed, as my colleague, Catherine Butler, pointed out in her recent blog:  ‘As professional university administrators, we provide high quality professional services, we have developed an appreciation of academic culture, are sensitive to the needs of a variety of diverse clients, accept responsibility for our actions and share expertise and good practice.  As such, the crucial role we play is integral to the strategic success of the University of Kent.’ 

It appears, however, this inclusive perception is not widespread.  Let me give you a couple of examples from my experience of working in higher education administration over the last fifteen years.  A senior academic member of staff once told me:  ‘unlike you, I never stop thinking’.  I found this offensive on a number of levels.   Needless to say, that person was wrong.  I provide a professional service and I am often preoccupied with work long after my working day, just like many of my colleagues.  Was this a singular incident or could this be indicative of a widely held perception?  Alas, a period of time later, I further overheard another academic member of staff referring to the recent promotion of an administrator, saying:  ‘Oh, but she will always be just a glorified secretary’.

Aside from my personal interest, even ‘one-off’ examples like these hint at a more general problem with colleagues’ perceptions of administrators.  Is administrative work seen as less important? Is it seen as less professional? Does the contribution of the administrator to academic work remain unseen and unheard? If so, why – what does that say about how that work is valued – and should it remain overlooked?  A negative perception is problematic and needs fixing.

One output that has arisen as a result of the University’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity is the ‘Valuing Everyone’ programme, in which all staff, including academics, participate.  ‘The Dignity at Work Policy’ further supports this ethos.  I believe this is an important idea and I would like to see it promoted further.  It seems that the University of Kent agrees (http://www.kent.ac.uk/hr-equalityanddiversity/pol-pro-guides/dignity.html).

In a nutshell, what Administrators want is to be treated as professionals and – to paraphrase Aretha Franklin – shown a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”.

 

 

Lessons from the 2014 football World Cup!

german teamIn a late response to the drama of the football world cup I have a list of lessons learned prompted by HR Grapevine. I have amended their proposed list and have included a couple of items which I have interpreted quite differently, so here is my personal list:

1: Don’t be too reliant on one star player

A number of matches have shown balanced teams succeed ahead of those that relied on one star player. Argentina’s Lionel Messi underperformed  in the final and the German team got the result. Brazil struggled as soon as Neymar was ruled out through injury. Uruguay were at sea without Suarez. Weeks earlier in the tournament England were too reliant on the Rooney factor and appeared simply not to set up to act as a unit.

The system should be greater than the sum of its parts, and no more so than in a team. Algeria, Mexico and Costa Rica performed above and beyond expectations.

The same is true about the capability of any team.

2: Trying hard will only get you so far

I think the England team were well prepared and earnest in their efforts (despite the hype  – both negative and positive – from the tabloids). Best efforts are often a sure fire way to failure (Deming has a lot to say about this). However mediocrity can be turned around – but this needs a transformation in approach.

A huge amount can be achieved by engaged the people who are ‘good enough’ to enable them to perform even better (see point one above).

3: Utilise technology  – if it makes sense to do so

FIFA endorsed the use of goal-line technology to deal with the age-old problem of knowing whether a ball had crossed the line for a goal or not. This is not new technology – similar approaches have been used in cricket since 2001 and tennis since 2006. The issue is will it solve the problem? It has been a great success.

Another nice innovation was the marker foam to set positions of defenders in a ‘wall’ at free kicks. Again this was a repeating problem – could we make the job of the referee easier to implement? Simple and effective and in this instance no digital technology in sight.

The first question with technology and innovation is – will it improve what we want to achieve?

4: You need to align team and individual goals

One of the big stories for England in the run up to the world cup concerned whether Wayne Rooney would finally get a goal after 3 unsuccessful tournaments. A bigger question for England fans should have been ‘who cares?’. Ultimately the world cup is not about individual players achieving anything it is about a team wining the championship. All else is a side story.

The problems occur when one person’s goal overrides the team’s goals. Did Rooney shoot when he could make passes to better placed team members? Did he dive into shots which other players were about to take themselves? Did he neglect his defensive duties on the left against Italy allowing them to win the match? There is evidence that points to all of these things. Did England switch off once Wayne had ‘got his goal’ in the game against Uruguay ? Who knows?

The winning German team successfully rotated a whole range of players to do the job. The Netherlands played a recognised centre-forward as a wing back (Dirk Kuyt) and he studiously grafted into that unfamiliar role with great effectiveness. The Dutch even drafted a substitute goalkeeper just for the penalty shootout.

5: Clarity of purpose, identity, belonging and vision pay off

Germany’s plan to recapture the world cup (which they last achieved in 1990) started back in 2000 after a poor showing in the European championships. The German Football Federation invested heavily in the future with new academies and a manager with a long-term plan.

They developed an identity for German international football and engaged players on the basis of playing to that philosophy.

A footnote to this is that German midfielder Sami Khedira picked up an injury in the warm up a few minutes before the start of the cup final and had to be replaced. Khedira will be devastated to have missed the game, but it was clear in the post match celebrations that he revelled in the team’s success and fully identified with the achievement of the team for the part that he had already played in the tournament up to that point (see point 4 above).

 

An alternative view is offered at HR Grapevine:

http://www.hrgrapevine.com/markets/hr/article/2014-07-14-hr-lessons-from-the-world-cup?utm_source=eshot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=HRM%20-%2014/07/2014

Should we say it again? People are not the problem.

chimp at wheelDeming famously stated “I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management), 6% special.“. In other words people-related ‘fault’ will be part of the minority 6%.

This statement tends to set people into a degree of  hand-wringing ifs and buts: ‘surely he meant this only in a manufacturing system’, ‘ what about the difficult people?’, ‘ what if they are incompetent?’, ‘I am sure folks are the problem 40% of the time’ etc…

Chip and Dan Heath share a trivial, but insightful example in their book ‘Switch’. They discuss a situation (part of a research exercise) where moviegoers eat significantly more popcorn if they are given large buckets, than if they are given small buckets. To the outsider it looks like the people are ‘Popcorn Gorging Gluttons’ and we may feel that we should judge them as so. In reality, their behaviour (eating excessive amounts of popcorn) is driven by the system – the size  of bucket they have been given. Change the bucket for a small one and their behaviour changes – they seem like moderate consumers. The system is the problem (large buckets), not the people.

“But aha – surely it’s their fault that they choose to scoff down the popcorn!”. True, we are sentient beings and can make choices (for example, I would hope that people who are aware of supermarket sales floor design are less likely to buy excessive amounts of fresh baked goods, fresh fruit and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ items). I am not suggesting that we should excuse everyone of their behaviour 95% of the time. There are other things to consider – for example do we run on autopilot too often (Do we let the chimp drive the car? More for a later blog I think…)?

However as a start we need to be honest enough to examine our own assumptions as placed upon others and how we judge their behaviour. As the Heath brothers suggest, to do this we need to encounter a deep-rooted phenomenon identified in psychology.

 Kendra Cherry explains -“When it comes to other people, we tend to attribute causes to internal factors such as personality characteristics and ignore or minimize external variables. This phenomenon tends to be very widespread, particularly among individualistic cultures.

In Psychology this is known as the fundamental attribution error – we automatically assume that the person’s internal characteristics are the cause of behaviour even when other possible influencing factors are present in the situation.

So let’s pull away from assumption and open our minds to what is really happening with people.

Further Reading:

Deming W.E. (1982) Out of the Crisis (p315), MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Heath C., and Heath, D. (2010) Switch: when change is hard, New York: Random House

Peters S. (2012) The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Vermillion, London.

 Other links:

Cherry, K. (2014) Attribution: How we explain behaviour. http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/attribution.htm

 

Engaging people in change – why bother with mind, emotions and matter?

Our brains process rational, physical & emotional responses to the wider world
Our brains process rational, physical & emotional responses to the wider world in which we live, work, learn & adapt.

There is plenty of material which draws us to consider the rational and emotional aspects of change. There is also plenty of conjecture available (on the web, dare I say) about the functioning of the human mind in relation to work.

We have already mentioned elsewhere on this blog site how easy it is to shrug off the importance of emotions at work. Emotions, rather than being dealt with and utilised, are often herded into one of two extreme boxes; ‘negative’ feelings (e.g. fear, discouragement, depression, disillusionment, upset) on one hand, or ‘positive’ feelings (e.g. celebration, recognition, encouragement) on the other.

However if we are sharing opinions or ideas or even managing more complex changes in the workplace, we should take more care to consider the importance of the emotional engagement of colleagues.

Rarely does rational argument win the day; often either physical elements (e.g. hierarchy) or emotional elements (e.g. engaging support) are also needed.

As Seddon states, time and time again, change is a normative process. What does he mean by this? What IS ‘normative’? Normative status is based upon our social understanding and values – we stick to what we stick to; we believe what we believe. Until these perspectives (or ‘paradigms – there is that word again!) are challenged and a person is willing to re-educate themselves, then different possibilities will often remain rejected or ignored.

Change has to be an experiential process and part of that process is to ‘un-learn’ previous thinking. It is possible to do this – even world -class golfers can unlearn and re-learn how to hit a golf ball in order to make significant improvement. Nevertheless this is a difficult thing to do. A person has to be ready and willing – emotionally engaged – to want to make the change. And that is just to change a golf swing!

STRATEGIES FOR CHANGE    –    which will work best?

Power ~ Coercive

BUT…

Assumes that people are generally compliant so will usually do what they are told or can be made to do. Change is achieved by exercising authority and by imposing sanctions. Relies on authority, and the ability to police future actions.

 Empirical ~ Rational

BUT…

People are rational and will follow self-interest — once those interests have been revealed to them. Change is based on the communication of information and offers of incentives. Focuses on incentives, which need to work over the long term.

Normative ~ Re-educative

*TRY THIS APPROACH!

People are social creatures and will follow cultural beliefs, traditions and values. Change is based on redefining and reinterpreting these norms & values, and developing people’s commitments to new ones.

If you encourage people to seek knowledge and identify changes that will be helpful, you steer their learning towards the issues which people need to learn in order to make things better.

 

Further Reading:

Bennis,W. G., Benne, K.D. and Chin R. (1969) The Planning of Change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, NY

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Sherkenbach W.W. (1991) Deming’s Road to Continual Improvement, SPS Press, Knoxville, TE